Now that there is a new NBA champion crowned, is there a new championship blueprint? Over the past four years, every free agent signing, draft pick and trade has been viewed through the lens of “how does this help against the Heat?” With the San Antonio Spurs’ domination of the Heat in this year’s finals, is it time to review the best way to mold a contender? I personally see more similarities between the construction of the Spurs and Heat’s roster than I do differences. Several of these similarities are what I believe helped lead these teams to back to back finals (and in the case of the Heat, four straight).
No Max Contracts
In a summer in which there’s no shortage of teams tripping over one another in an effort to sign Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love to a max contract, it’s important to take notice that not one single player in the Finals was on a max contract. Much was made during the Finals of the “Built vs Bought” strategies utilized to construct these rosters, the important take away for me was that both teams’ “Big Threes” took less money to play together. Whether they took less money to stay together or come together, to me, is irrelevant. The important take away here is that the teams’ top players made financial sacrifices in order to build the best team possible.
Speaking of sacrifices, I’m extremely jealous of the players on the Spurs and Heat’s willingness to allow their coaches the freedom to make line-up changes based on matchups. Much was written this year about the Bulls’ decision to continually start Boozer and the Thunder’s decision to stick with Perkins. For both examples it was often written that the coaches feared losing the player mentally if they didn’t keep them as a starter.
These issues did not exist amongst the rosters of the Spurs and Heat. Lineups were changed throughout the regular season and playoffs depending on match-ups and no players sulked or checked out mentally. Everyone stayed prepared, waiting to contribute if/when they’re number was called.
Both rosters are filled with shooters. The Bulls had two players shoot over 37% from three-point range (Mike Dunleavy and DJ Augustine), the Spurs had 8, the Heat had 5, and both teams averaged around 2 more made threes a game compared to Chicago. The need for shooting has been identified by the Bulls’ front office, and moves have been made to add shooting (signing Dunleavy and Augustine, drafting Snell and Mirotic) but we’ll still need more to open up our offense and provide our team the spacing we need to operate at an elite level.
Every team to ever win a championship acknowledges that you need to be a little lucky in addition to being skilled to host the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. While luck plays a factor, it’s not the only variable to contribute to a team’s health. Thibodeau has been criticized at times for his rotations and minutes distribution. The simple response to these criticisms over the past two seasons was of course, well who do you want him to play? Which brings me to my last point.
San Antonio was able to turn to and trust its bench throughout the regular season and even during the Finals against the defending champs. Players like Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobli played key roles for the Spurs by allowing their offensive energy to maintain a relentless pace and ability for 48 minutes a night. Miami’s bench failed them forcing their starters to play heavy minutes leading to fatigue and infamous cramping.
Depth is uniquely tied to the first factor I mentioned in this article. If you strip down the team to add a max-player you’re left with a top-heavy team, which may leave you no better off, then you are now.
So what is the blueprint for a championship roster? Well, 21 of the last 24 championships were won by Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. So, maybe the secret is to have one of the best players to ever play the game. If that’s not an option, I’d encourage you to look at the 3 other teams to raise banners during this time. The 2004 Pistons, 2008 Celtics and 2011 Mavericks all featured well-balanced, deep teams capable of playing a variety of styles with the ability to match up against any team.
In an ideal world, Carmelo Anthony puts winning ahead of his financial security and signs with the Bulls at a price that doesn’t require us to gut the roster. While I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for this scenario, it’s important we understand how rare it is to win a championship, and how much sacrifice it takes from players. By gutting our roster we may improve our core, while moving further away from contention. If the ultimate goal is a championship, it’s important to make moves that take us closer to this goal and not get blinded or distracted by shiny objects and marquee names.